Tropical flowers reach over our tiny wooden row boat, tickling my shoulders and filling the air with fragrance as we pass. Curious children and dogs peer at us from the porches of stilted homes that hover over the water. A farmer, his boat brimming with fresh-picked pineapples, flashes a smile before making small talk with our guide. We arrive at the tiny village of Tha Kha about an hour’s drive southwest of Bangkok expecting another typical floating market, but what we find is a rural Thai experience well worth making the effort to get to.
Located 10 kilometres from Amphawa amid the canals and fruit plantations of Samut Songkhram province, Tha Kha is home to a weekend gathering of locals that’s been taking place undisturbed for well over a century. The villagers encourage tourists to visit Tha Kha floating market, but thanks to its modest size and out-of-the-way location, it has never caught on in the way Damnoen Saduak has.
Most of the villagers continue with an agricultural tradition that’s been handed down for many generations. They rise early and tend to seek shade during the midday heat, so it’s no wonder that most of the floating vendors have vanished by the time we arrive at the market around 13:00. A handful of elderly women linger beside displays of spices, fresh fruit, sun-dried fish and the occasional handwoven basket, presumably enjoying a few last minutes of gossip while cracking smiles at the late-arriving city folk.
Just as our disappointment from having missed the better part of the market begins to settle in, a woman pops up out of nowhere and offers to take us out on a row-boat for 5o baht; within that same minute we find ourselves skimming over the water. A peaceful atmosphere is disrupted only by the chatter of our guide.
We row ever so lazily up a narrow stream caressed on either side by bright and hearty tropical foliage. Centuries-old teak wood homes emerge from watery rows of coconut palms, their spirit houses perched in sun-drenched gardens beside the water. A few white cranes swoop out of the treetops as prehistoric-looking monitor lizards track fish that swim within arm’s reach of where I sit. We hadn’t expected this to be a sightseeing tour, but we don’t complain when our guide docks at a canalside temple.
Despite being the smallest of Thailand’s 77 provinces, Samut Songkhram is home to more temples than any other province; no fewer than 110 individual wats, most of them centuries old, are found within its borders. After a wander through the community halls and sacred spaces of Ayutthaya-era Wat Baan Laem, and a blessing from the head monk, I feel as though I’m just beginning — after almost two years spent in Thailand — to understand firsthand the vital role temples continue to play in rural Thai communities.
Back on the boat, Bangkok’s frenetic streets seem very far away. A little black dog waits as a man pulls his rowboat up to one home. A group of friends laugh out loud between sips of beer.
After well over an hour of rowing, our guide seems to be enjoying the cruise as much as we are, so it’s not a huge surprise when we dock again, this time at a household that produces a type of sugar by simmering coconut sap for hours. We receive a quick demonstration of the process before sampling a dollop of the sweet golden goo that’s not quite yet refined, but is plenty sweet.
Our guide doesn’t seem to notice — or to give a hoot — when we’re ready to hop back in the boat as she’s since become immersed in a friendly exchange with a villager who earns her living by preparing wok-fried noodles on her own modest boat. Once we do shove off, a few hundred metres more of absolute peace and quiet returns us to a now deserted market. We pay our guide what we feel the tour is actually worth — it’s a good bit more than 50 baht.
If interested in gaining a firsthand peek into rural Thai life, we recommend Tha Kha for its floating market with a genuine feel and plenty of breathing room, and the possibility of a boat ride like the one we stumbled upon. There doesn’t seem to be too much of a chance that Tha Kha will become a tourist trap any time soon. The market is only open on Saturdays and Sundays — be sure to arrive in the early morning to see the market in full swing.
Tha Kha is located north of Amphawa, a few kilometres off Route 325, and it’s a relatively easy trip if you have your own transport (see map). Tuk tuks from either Amphawa or Samut Songkhram town can also take you here; we would expect to pay 300 to 400 baht for a return trip from either. A visit to see the full-size train roll through nearby Mae Khlong market is also a worthwhile (although less relaxing) adventure, as is the classic atmosphere of Amphawa’s weekend market. You could conceivably visit all three of these markets in a single day, although two to three days would be ideal.
How to get there
To get here on your own steam, head north out of Amphawa on Route 325 and follow the well-marked signs to Tha Kha floating market. The market can also be reached as part of a tour -- by boat or tuk tuk -- from Amphawa.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 13th April, 2015.